Birthday greetings to the sexy horns over at Onyx Brass, described by BBC Music Magazine as “the classiest brass ensemble in Britain”, who have celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2023 with their second release on NMC.
This new album, The sun is free to flow with the sea, includes a collection of new commissions including by yours truly. Humbled to be included on the same CD as some amazing compositional talent including legends Mark-Anthony Turnage & Errollyn Wallen.
Was great to work as a composition ‘mentor’, transcriber and arranger for this wonderful collaboration between mutidisciplinary collective House of Absolute and members of Philharmonia Orchestra. All material was collaboratively generated, HOA collective and PO musicians danced, composed and performed – decisions collectively made, all voices listened to. It was great to see the blurring of lines and a holistic way of working starting with breath work, honest, heart felt dialogue and compassion. Was grateful to have a small role in this transformational work.
So what to say? What a year, year zero! It feels a bit like a leap year, but instead of moving forward, we remain in a purgatory-esque state of struggle, suffering, restriction and repetition with pockets of joy. I think it was around January this year when I finally felt as though I had had enough. I miss seeing my friends and giving them a cuddle. I miss having the opportunity to do something even though I probably won’t leave the house.
Currently surviving the precarious nature of post-doctoral life. I naively thought it would provide more stability than being a freelance creative.
I’ve entered my second year of teaching at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Junior Conservatoire which has been a nice challenge. I care deeply about my students’ development and often ponder about the best way to support their growth, how do I encourage them to do better without discouraging them when I highlight areas of development? How do I elicit from them their own ideas to move their pieces in a direction that serves the aims of their musical creations? How do I do this on Zoom? How do I make that connection?
Really excited to be hatching some plans with photographer B+. His work has been part of my life well before we met. He’s a cool cat and very generous. I won’t say too much.
Currently reading up on the notion of black aesthetics… Is it a thing? Is it possible? Is it too reductionist to group black creativity/expression into one mode of philosophical thought when Africa and the African disapora is hugggeeeee? Time to launch into some research and find out, eh. Loving this beautiful book by Paul Taylor, Black is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black Aesthetics
So I’m blogging during these strange times of coronavirus. It’s really odd because in our blind leading the blind lead up to Covid-19 I found that from October – once I had submitted my PhD – all I wanted to do was be around nature. Every weekend I put my walking boots on and stomped around the countryside. I did not want to be indoors at all!
I feel pretty calm despite the madness… Anyway, I don’t know what to say, the UK government have handled the situation badly, black and brown people are dying in record numbers.
There’s a clear class divide in terms of those who are being affected – people have died on my road, it’s crazy. There have been several times where I have heard the clipperty clop sounds of horses transporting those whose lives have sadly been taken to their final resting place.
Then there’s the BLM movement that has been galvanised due to the tragic death of George Flloyd, cue loads of white folks rushing to demonstrate that they are not racist by sharing social media posts about how woke they are or how many times they have interacted with black people in their work. Some of it is well-meaning, some I find is really cringe. I have to limit my time on socials as everyone is shouting about it. Personally, I think it’s time white folks took the lead in addressing their part in all this. How are you are going to avoid creating temporary tokenistic interventions rather than the labour intensive, challenging, durational work needed to create real change for equality and equity? What if that means you need to give up some power ? Are you still down for the cause?
Anyway, during these three months, it’s all about the rituals. I really enjoy teaching my composition students and I’m listening to a fair amount of music. High-intensity exercise, walks, Buddhist chanting and reading are getting me through.
Some tracks I’ve had on lock:
Still determined to make a real change in my work – which will take a while. I’m in the early stages of planning something exciting… I have to view the journey as a marathon. Reading an ace book which is a dialogue between my spiritual mentor Daisaku Ikeda with legendary jazz musicians Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. A passage that inspired me is where Shorter says he tries hard to create music that puts people in touch with their deepest hopes and dreams they have given up, aiming to “inspire courage, so people can overcome their fear of the unknown and find a way to deal with the unpredictable and unexpected. He says the process of cultural awakening is one that must be pursued patiently and there are no shortcuts.”
“Cultural exchange raises awareness. By coming into contact with other cultures, people learn that there are many perspectives and ways of life. Such an awareness can overcome long-held rigid and parochial views of culture, which no longer have a place in the world”.
I’m currently listening to some contemporary composers Roque Cordero and George Walker. They are both completely new to me.
Roque Cordero according to wikipedia was (August 16, 1917 – December 27, 2008) and a Panamanian composer. George Theophilus Walker (June 27, 1922 – August 23, 2018) was the first African American to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
Thanks everyone for your wonderful contributions to the first task!
Second task: what do you think are the components of the sound world for RnB/Pop/Soul60s/70s ? What instruments and musical stamps do we need to include so that a piece feels like it sends a nod to that world?
If you want to send in sketches or develop material I’ll send you a link to dropox where you can hear/read ideas and develop in anyway you wish.
Hey there lovelies! Here’s the page for us to share findings.
Task 1: Please introduce yourself and what you’d be interested in contributing to the project to the gang.
Task 2: Please share your top 5 tracks which must include orchestral arrangers (soul/jazz/RnB/pop of 60/70s). What do you love about the sound? What do you think are the signature elements of the music you’ve selected that we should take note of for our collaborative piece?
Deadline: 28th September.
Alfonso, I’m listening to music by Thom Bell on your recommendation, he has an interesting story too! I wonder what he does now? Would love to see these scores, how do I access them, record labels?
Lord ha mercy this as well:
Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” – The Delfonics – starts with french horn and glockenspiel! That brass!!
Read this interview about his collaboration with Johnny Mathis on the track ‘Coming Home” and this stood out:
“Musically, Bell fashioned an arrangement that further amplified the visual cues in Creed’s narrative. “I intended to meet the obligations of the lyrics of what he’s saying,” he explains. “It’s got to match. If the arrangement does not fit, I’m not ashamed to throw it in the trash. Just because I wrote it doesn’t mean it has to be in there.” Each musical component on “I’m Coming Home” painted a vivid scene: the interplay between the bass and drums summoned a train’s chugging rhythm on the tracks while the strings evoked rolling landscapes glimpsed from a passenger’s window. The soft horns simulated a distant train whistle heralding Mathis’ arrival.”